Hugo Rifkind

Back in 2005, Blair thought these would be his Olympics

Back in 2005, Blair thought these  would be his Olympics
British Prime Minister Tony Blair smiles during a press conference 06 July 2005 in Gleneagles after London was chosed to host the Olympic Games 2012. "It is a momentous day for London," said Blair, who heard the news in the heavily fortified Scottish gol
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Back in 2006, I broke a great story in the Times about Tony Blair’s tie. Yep, that’s me, always the heavyweight. But it was good stuff. What we’d noticed — me and Simon from the picture desk — was that whenever Blair felt particularly under pressure, he’d pop out the next day in his special Olympic tie. It was a stripy affair, worn by the whole crew when we won the bid in 2005. Obviously, it gave him a lift.

To be honest, it was rather like shooting fish in a barrel. This was 2006, remember, so Blair was under pressure all the time. I barely even remember why. ‘Tony Blair wore his Olympic tie yesterday to give his press conference on the Middle East with rumours of Cabinet splits over his policy towards Lebanon,’ I wrote. We all remember that being a big deal, right?

He wore it after numerous embarrassments over ‘cash for peerages’, he wore it defending ‘his controversial education reforms in the Commons hours after Labour rebels had forced him to water down controversial plans about school selection’ (?) and he wore it after the government lost a vote to detain terrorist subjects for 90 days. He wore it when bad things happened with Charles Clarke, Patricia Hewitt and John Prescott, whoever the hell they were. He wore it, is my point, a lot.

The best bit of the story was the follow-up, when we got in touch with Jeff Banks, the designer, who told us that Blair actually had six of the things. ‘Downing Street keeps calling up and asking for new ones,’ he told me. ‘It’s like he’s chewing through them or something.’ Then he sent us one, which we gave away in a competition. ‘It’s bound to be worth a fortune on eBay some day soon,’ I wrote, madly.

Blair and the Olympics; they were meant to be intertwined. ‘This,’ he probably told himself, ‘will be my legacy. Never mind Iraq or “Yo, Blair!” or a thousand other petty humiliations. Never mind Lord Levy. Even if the unthinkable happens, if I go, and it turns out that we haven’t eradicated boom and bust at all, and the Tories get in, and all those horrible little bastards from Gordon’s office take over the party and make my name dirt, I’ll always have this. My Olympics. Mine.’

But no. It’s David Cameron’s Olympics. Indeed, it might even be Boris’s Olympics. Blair isn’t even hanging around like Banquo’s ghost. It’s more like some bemused medieval security guard is marching into a Scottish castle going, ‘anybody know anything about this see-thru Banquo dude hanging around outside?’ He’s been briefly on telly, he was at that Downing Street lunch. He wasn’t even wearing his special tie. I suppose he’s eaten them all by now.

There’s a lesson in this. I’m not wholly sure what it is, but it feels like it ought to be a profound one. There’s nothing more desperate than the politician who wants a legacy, and maybe nothing more futile either.

I suppose there are countless examples of similar; I offer you, briefly, the way that the Scottish Parliament is now largely seen as Alex Salmond’s achievement, rather than Donald Dewer’s, and how we’ve all pretty much forgotten whatever it was that Gordon Brown was so proud that he’d done to save the global economy. The hand of history rests lightly upon your shoulder, is my point, but then it starts to fidget and goes off to play with its phone. It’s like the old poem. My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and give all credit to the next bloke but one.

•••

Speaking as somebody who doesn’t enjoy watching sport and can’t for a moment fathom why so many people seem to (preamble; please let’s not fight about this today), can I just say how much I’m enjoying the Olympics? If I’d known it was going to be like this, I’d have been an enthusiast from the start. It’s brilliant. London is empty. I can cycle to work in about half an hour, and the roads are my own. On the days I take the tube, I always get a seat. Some day soon, I’m thinking of bringing the car, just because I can. It’s as though Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony has been followed by Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. But without the zombies.

Most of the newspapers are filled with things I feel under absolutely no obligation to read. I’m hardly watching any telly because my wife always has the sport on, and I’m hardly spending any time on Twitter because there’s a limit to the number of people I want to read writing ‘omg, the men’s gymnastics is amazing right now’ and frankly it’s somewhere between zero and one. So suddenly I have my evenings back. I’m reading books, and sorting out the house.

I doubt it will last. The streets of London will clutter up, as residents realise that nobody else is leaving their houses and so they all do, at once. And my brain will, too, as I inevitably begin to sponge up the zeitgeist and become as excited as everybody else, inexplicably, about the gymnastics. But for now, it’s a treat. It’s like the best sort of holiday, when everybody else goes on holiday and leaves you behind. More of this sort of thing, please. What a shame we’re not getting the World Cup.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.